Comfortable and Furious

Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader

The previews that screened before the next dull slog through the Narnia saga softened me up a bit. Particularly for Rio, in which birds voiced by Jesse Eisenberg and Anne Hathaway bumble about Brazil’s vacation paradise before facing the harrowing reality of the City of God. Still, just about any bit of processed and heated up Christian propaganda would be guaranteed to wear down all but the dimmest viewers. Whereas The Lion, the Witch, and the Water Closet was a rewrite of the New Testament, and Prince Caspian was a fairly straightforward sword and speech yarn, Voyage of the Dawn Treader is a moralizing gauntlet with the end goal of reaching heaven.

It is formless and meandering, and could easily withstand a trim of about 45 minutes with no loss of story or coherence. J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were contemporaries and fantasy writers, but there the comparisons end. Tolkien’s writing was informed by a horror of war, and a fear of the creeping violence borne of corruption. CS Lewis, on the other hand, was informed primarily by the Bible, and romanticized war as part of a great crusade to spread its values to the less enlightened. The Lion, etc was his most coherent work, due mostly to its ripoff of the story of Jesus and his impending crucifixion. Without this structure, as in his other novels, they are quite a mess.

As in the two previous stories, Dawn Treader begins as the children in the ‘real world’ are summoned into Narnia by a painting. This time it is Edmund the Just, Lucy the Something, and Eustice the Cuntish. The ship picks them up at sea on a quest to do stuff or whatever – the book is similarly bad at defining a reason why such an expensive and dangerous mission was devised. Essentially this summons deals with how children must be brought to believe in the Christian faith, and through this teaching by example, they are to see the light. Aslan, the Jesus character from the previous books, is always watching them, and is able to help them if they only believe.

The kids are all royalty, which makes no sense as they appear and disappear at random times, but whatever. The quest involves finding the fates of seven lords who disappeared from Narnia in a search to destroy evil (really, that’s as concrete as it gets). They failed, as it turns out, as they were corrupted, in a mirror of the Nine ringwraiths of Lord Of the Rings who were corrupted by Sauron. Copyright law was more flexible then, I guess. Anyway, the ship proceeds to liberate a slave trading post, find an island with some swords for Aslan’s table, then they need to find another island for some more swords, etc. This leads to tedious videogame cutscenes and various buckles to lazily swash.

Beyond the muddle, they need to conquer Evil in order to free the souls of hundreds of people trapped by a green mist at sea. The mist is around them at all times and takes the form of temptation, selfishness, greed, fear, and so forth; the leads must conquer these qualities in themselves in order to free the souls. And after they do so, they will reach Aslan’s Land, or Heaven. So only by following Christian principles can they become Christian soldiers and so free the human race from its lack of Christian principles. The buzzwords are all over the place: “We have nothing, if not belief”, “You must avoid temptation”; Aslan actually states at the end, as the characters glimpse heaven: “In your world I am known by another name. Know me better there.” There is a lot of Yoda-esque advice given, and draggy exposition to get to these finger-wagging moral exercises. Each of the leads must face their own artificial crisis to collect the swords just before the next save point.

And each triumph is punctuated by one of several hundred trumpet flourishes, each of which are useful for leaving the theater to take a piss. You miss nothing. So does the Chronicles of Narnia series make Sunday School fun? If you enjoy a moralistic sermon made with a minimum of subtlety, then perhaps. I sat through this crap because giving such twaddle a dignified analysis is a less destructive hobby than crank. Perhaps you would enjoy CGI-laden setpieces, though these are more inert than Clash of the Titans. The end battle is a cross between Ghostbusters and Jaws IV, as a monster will take shape out of someone’s fear and attack the protagonists (sadly, Mr. Stay Puft was more menacing), while it is beaten whilst roaring after being rammed by the ship and it explodes.

That a deus ex machina is required for this goes without saying in a fantasy/magic film. Well of course, we needed to use Grabthar’s Hammer and toss it into the Muff of Carkoon! A child would know that! And as the Evil is vanquished… somehow… the entire island symbolizing Hell vanishes to yield a few hundred refugees on boats. These people now need to be towed back home, though this journey took several weeks and as the crew of the Dawn Treader noted repeatedly, there is no food. Unfortunately, the movie ended before we could explore the moral impact of cannibalism.

The worst part of Dune Treader was Eustice, who way overplays his role of annoying brat. Sure, he is a piece of shit, but he is written to symbolize the cynical atheist. Even in the middle of Narnia, he just will not believe, and he need only embrace the love of Aslan, and he would become a mighty warrior. Eventually he does confront his weakness (greed, though he demonstrated no greed prior to his arbitrary test) and gets turned into a dragon, and somehow learns to be less of an asshole.

He eventually falls in line and becomes a true believer, and will be summoned as the great hero of the next adventure, a move which will hopefully kill off this shambolic franchise at last. It is annoying that such a deep philosophical idea as the nature of faith is reduced to “Don’t be such a cunt – accept Christ”, but C.S. Lewis could not be bothered to come up with anything more thoughtful. Whatever. The theatre was pretty empty, so nobody bugged me while I wrote this review.